Think Positive: Airline Gives Discounts to Healthy Passengers

crying babyThe evolution of airline baggage fees has been fun to watch. First it was simply for extra bags; then many of them began charging for all checked baggage; and now we are starting to see several airlines charging for carry on luggage as well. All the while, travelers are getting fed up and are looking for alternatives.

Congress has even decided that this issue is important enough to get involved. I don’t get why they have got involved. Aren’t businesses allowed to charge for what they want? These airlines are businesses and they should be allowed to run themselves without government’s interference. No matter how asinine the airlines become, it is their business, not Uncle Sam’s.

I don’t want to get into the debate about why many airlines are doing this. But there is a side of the issue that I would love to discuss with you – punishment vs. reward and how this issue relates to your business.


Back in school, we read a study that explored what happened when a daycare tried dealing with parents who were consistently late picking up their children. They began by charging them a late fee. Common sense would tell you that most people had being punished and they will do anything they can to avoid it. But that isn’t what happened.

Instead, the tardy parents started being even more tardy. They figured it was worth paying the extra fee so they could have a little more convenience. The daycare compounded its problem by trying to punish the parents. Who would have guessed?

Let’s look back at the airlines for a minute. They have pissed off a whole lot of people. Many passengers are turning to alternatives (premium airlines, rental cars, trains) because they feel like the baggage fees are excessive. But I have also witnessed the opposite happen. Not long ago, I was waiting in line at the airport and got stuck behind a family that looked as if they had packed every item they owned.

There are even talks about airlines that are considering charging overweight passengers more – the price of two seats!

Regardless of why the airlines are doing this, their customers see it as a punishment and one that is excessive. Other than helping the airlines increase their short-term revenue, these scheme is doomed over the long haul. But what if we turned the whole thing upside down?


There are still a few airlines that have refused to add fees for baggage. They should be applauded and my guess is that they are being rewarded with increased customers and revenue. But what if we took this one step further? What if a brave airline decided to start giving discounts (rewards) to customers who were fit and/or packed lighter?

The daycare experimented with rewards and found out a valuable lesson. When they rewarded parents for the right behaviors, they responded better. Another interesting result was that a social stigma formed around being late – it was no longer acceptable and tardiness went down. I’m oversimplifying the study; however, it does raise a lot of great questions for businesses:

  • When your customers misbehave, do you punish them?
  • Do you find ways to reward your customers when they do things right?
  • Are there ways you could refocus your energy such that you focus more on the positives than the negatives?
  • Could you be missing out on valuable opportunities with your team members or employees?

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